Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: January 13, 2004
I'm going to be straight up honest with you good folks for a minute.
I don't play video football. Rather, I haven't played it since the (good ol') days of Tecmo Super Bowl back on the NES. Heck, I still have fond memories of 10 Yard Fight; back when the players moved in tandem around your quarterback.
After those days, I fell out of love with video football; heck, video versions of traditional sports in general. This can probably all be blamed on a certain plumber and hedgehog, and then later on I fell into the vast, sticky web of fighting games that I am just now pulling myself out of.
Why am I talking about myself at such great lengths right now? It's to make a point.
NFL Street brought me back. It's brought me back to video football; or at least, taken the initial steps to doing so.
I am both amazed and saddened by this. I have enough things to do, and enough games to play, without adding something with nearly unlimited replay potential (at least until the sequel) to the already vast list. Curses.
If you want a neat little summation of NFL Street, here's a handy formula:
Madden - (Rules/2) + Tony Hawk Trick Combo System = Street.
To break it down, take EA's already popular and playable Madden franchise, and make things a little looser. By looser, we're talking fewer plays (at least to start), fewer rules, and slightly more forgiving AI and conditioning. All of this is implemented to make Street a football game to have fun with. It's less concerned with trying to fully recreate a traditional pigskin game, and more with bending the rules, being creative, and adding some flash, spice, and pizzazz to a traditionally gritty, stressful, strict and painful sport.
Adding to this are the features that make NFL Street unique: namely, the Style System, and Gamebreakers. The mechanics involving both of these are very Tony Hawk -ish in nature, though slightly more complicated to execute due to the fact that for some of these crazy moves, you've got to be holding the Left Trigger, pressing down the left thumbstick, and pressing a button or the moving the right thumbstick at any given time. It's murder on a beginner's hands, or even a pro's, but the rewards are just about worth it.
Style Moves allow a player to showboat for the crowd, or humiliate other opponents, as the person performing them engages in a variety of actions. Expect behind-the-back passes, super jukes, midfield dances, and other moves that, while in general look either goofy or like taunts, actually are useful in scoring Style Points for your team, and allowing them to score touchdowns more efficiently. In short, with a little bit of practice (and a healthy supply of thumb-cushions), you can turn your team into the Harlem Globetrotters of the football world. There is a price however; if you try to get too fancy too often, and get hit, there's a much greater chance that you'll fumble the ball, risking an instant turnover.
Why bother with Style Points at all? Simple. Style points build up a "Gamebreaker" meter. Think of it as a super meter bar in fighting games. Once the Gamebreaker meter is full, you're given a license to turn your team into the Six Million Dollar Men; your team, for a full possession, on either offense or defense, can run faster, juke easier, block better, and shrug off would-be tacklers like they were tissue paper. In short, if your opponent activates one of these, get ready for frustration. The key to prevention, then, is easy to see: do more tricks and gain Style Points faster than the opposing team; and rush the other team down for all they're worth so that they don't get a chance to do the same. These two procedures alone make for fast, frenetic, and strategic play.
Luckily, Gamebreaker isn't an "instant win" button; sure, it gives an entire team (or rather, whatever single person you're controlling on that team at that moment) super-stats, but it's far from impossible to thwart a Gamebreaker's plans, whether it be by activating your own Gamebreaker, or by simply being more clever and skilled than your supercharged opponent. All in all, the system makes for an interesting, fun, and surprising addictive round of video football; one that can easily incite trash talk among those who play it, and gasps of amazement at those who watch it.
The graphics… you know, I honestly can't say I've kept up with the visual trends of sports games. I'm unable to say whether or not it looks as good as the latest Madden or NFL/ESPN 2K game, because I haven't gotten around to playing them all that extensively. The graphics, however, do work, which is all I ask, really. The players look like players, with differing muscle tones, skin colors, distinctive faces. I can easily tell that I'm playing with actual people, instead the polygonal equivalent of wooden dummies like back in the PSX days. The fields look quite nice, as well. I think that compared to other games, Street might be a bit more no-frills than most; but as it has less pressure on it to look and feel like an actual NFL Monday Night Football broadcast (heck, all of the NFL teams are included, but everyone wears street clothes and no helmets-this is backyard gridiron all the way, baby), I can allow myself to give it more leeway as to how it looks overall. I have no problem with it, either way.
The soundtrack, however, I can talk about. It is, to put it in technical terms, "totally sweet". It's mainly hip-hop, with a little rock thrown in for variety (I suppose) which gives this game the urban atmosphere it requires. Adding to that atmosphere are the sound effects of the players crunching against one another, and a multitude of random sound bytes uttered by the players which range from everything to trash talk (oh, the trash talk is so wonderful) to war whoops to grunts of rage. There are no announcers, for two reasons: one, these aren't official, field-hosted NFL-sanctioned games; and two… with the players chattering so much, no one will really miss them.
Got friends? NFL Street will give you a grand old time with all of them, provided they can understand basic football lingo and what all the little dots on the playbooks mean. Don't have friends? Street gives you a rocking Mission Mode that's tied in with its Create-A-Team feature. It also has unlockable teams, plays, stats, and fields. All of this goodness is wrapped up in a no-frills package that isn't very flashy, but contains enough heaping helpings of both style and substance to keep any video gamer busy for a long, long time. The only caveat is that true novices to this gaming genre will have to take a quickie crash course in Pigskin 101; however, anyone who decides to take that plunge will be glad they did.
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